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The effects of woodland habitat and biogeography on blue tit Cyanistes caeruleus territory occupancy and productivity along a 220 km transect

Shutt, JD ORCID logoORCID: https://orcid.org/0000-0002-4146-8748, Bolton, M, Cabello, IB, Burgess, MD and Phillimore, AB (2018) The effects of woodland habitat and biogeography on blue tit Cyanistes caeruleus territory occupancy and productivity along a 220 km transect. Ecography, 41 (12). pp. 1967-1978. ISSN 0906-7590

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Abstract

© 2018 The Authors The nesting phenology and productivity of hole-nesting woodland passerines, such as tit species (Paridae), has been the subject of many studies and played a central role in advancing our understanding of the causes and consequences of trophic mismatch. However, as most studies have been conducted in mature, oak-rich (Quercus sp.) woodlands, it is unknown whether insights from such studies generalise to other habitats used by woodland generalist species. Here we applied spatial mixed models to data collected over three years (2014–2016) from 238 nestboxes across 40 sites – that vary in woodland habitat and elevation – along a 220 km transect in Scotland. We evaluate the importance of habitat, biogeography and food availability as predictors of mesoscale among-site variation in blue tit Cyanistes caeruleus nestbox occupancy and two components of productivity (clutch size and fledging success). We found that habitat was not a significant predictor of occupancy or clutch size but that occupancy exhibited pronounced biogeographic trends, declining with increasing latitude and elevation. However, fledging success, defined as the proportion of a clutch that fledged, was positively correlated with site level availability of birch, oak and sycamore, and tree diversity. The lack of correspondence between the effects of habitat on fledging success versus occupancy and clutch size may indicate that blue tits do not accurately predict the future quality of their breeding sites when selecting territories and laying clutches. We found little evidence of spatial autocorrelation in occupancy or clutch size, whereas spatial autocorrelation in fledging success extends over multiple sites, albeit non-significantly. Taken together, our findings suggest that the relationship between breeding decisions and breeding outcomes varies among habitats, and we urge caution when extrapolating inferences from one habitat to others.

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